by Steve Habrat
If you are someone who refuses to get swept up in The Hunger Games fever and dismisses the film as just a Twilight wannabe, you need to get to a theater immediately and check the film out for yourself. The Hunger Games is the first must-see movie of 2012 and it certainly lives up to the hype surrounding it. I went into the film with a neutral attitude, never having read one of the books and not overly excited to see the movie. About halfway through, I was fully immersed in the film because of the way director Gary Ross sold me Katniss Everdeen’s story and how he shaped the world of Panem. When it comes to other teen franchises, mostly Harry Potter and Twilight, I have to say that The Hunger Games is the most impressive debut film, one that establishes characters that I want more from, action that was both uncomfortable and yet exhilarating, and a cliffhanger of an ending that makes a sequel necessary. But The Hunger Games refuses to go flat stylistically much like Harry Potter and Twilight did on their first run, and I have to say that I ate up the Battle Royale meets District 9 meets A Clockwork Orange meets THX 1138 meets 1984 appearance of The Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games drops us off in the totalitarian nation of Panem, a post-apocalyptic world that is made up of the futuristic Capital and the twelve poorer districts that surround it. We arrive in the mining town of District 12 where we meet 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Played by Jennifer Lawrence) who shacks up with her younger sister Prim (Played by Willow Shields) and her mother. Every year, the nation of Panem huddles around their televisions to watch the Hunger Games, where twenty-four children are selected by the government and then forced to fight each other until only one survivor remains. During “the reaping”, an event in which the gaudily dressed Effie (Played by Elizabeth Banks) selects one boy and one girl from the Districts, Prim ends up being one of the names that gets called. Katniss volunteers to go in her sister’s place, an offer that is accepted by Effie. The boy who is selected is Peeta Mellark (Played by Josh Hutcherson), who hides feelings for the prickly Katniss. They soon make the trip to the Capital where they meet their mentor Haymitch (Played by Woddy Harrelson), stylist Cinna (Played by Lenny Kravitz), grandiose announcer and host Caesar Flickerman (Played by Stanley Tucci), and the leader of Panem President Snow (Played by Donald Sutherland). As the kids begin training and battling for sponsorships, Katniss emerges as the most deadly in the Hunger Games, but soon Katniss and Peeta learn that there is more to the games than just simply fighting for your life.
The style that Ross applies to The Hunger Games is reminiscent of past works but all it’s own too. The dystopian decay and totalitarian rule brought District 9, THX 1138, and 1984 to my mind while the games themselves acted as a smoothed over Battle Royale. The futuristic style seemed like they were ripped right out of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and the scenes where a group of kids laugh at their own violence brought images of Alex DeLarge and his “droogs”. Yet The Hunger Games feels vaguely fresh and is a beast all its own. It reflects on our willingness to hang on reality television and violence. There are several kids competing in the games who are all too eager to kill off fellow competitors. You can’t help but reflect on the violence that is sold to children both in video games and cinema itself. Yet The Hunger Games doesn’t exploit the carnage, much of it remaining of screen and to our own imagination. The opening moments of the games are extremely brutal as kids with swords, hatchets, knives, and more hack other kids up, some doing it with a faint smile forming on their faces. The Hunger Games suggests desensitized times but throws in a sensitive heroine who only kills if she has to, and she certainly doesn’t do it happily, making Katniss the last good kid alive. The film will no doubt spark discussion about violence and it is justified. Still, I think it is something that children can handle. The violence is never injudicious or excessive and when it does erupt, Ross smartly makes it tough to swallow.
Unlike Bella Swan, Katniss Everdeen is a female hero that girls should rally behind. She is a bit unsure of herself when she is in the spotlight, but she remains strong willed, crafty, and resourceful, a “girl on fire” as the film suggests. She isn’t a shallow, scowling teen who broods over two guys fighting over her, whining about how horrible it all is. Early on, she is juxtaposed with Effie, who bathes in glamour, beauty, and excesses, hanging on the glittery material items surrounding her while caring less about the real matter at hand. Ross and screenwriters Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray illustrate Katniss as a more thoughtful character, someone who looks out for the ones she loves rather than strictly herself in these selfish times. While Katniss does brood, it helps that Ross, Collins, and Ray give Katniss a reason to mope. Her life is on the line.
The rest of the characters are just as captivating as Katniss, leaving the viewer actually wanting more of them too. I loved Tucci’s theatrical blue-haired talk show host and I hope to see more of him in future. Another big surprise is Lenny Kravitz as stylist Cinna, a character of quiet warmth for our dear Katniss. A scene right before the beginning on the game between Cinna and Katniss is truly a standout. I also really liked Harrelson’s Haymitch, a reluctant and drunken mentor who finally comes around when our heroes need him most. And I can’t leave out Elizabeth Banks as Effie, a colorful character who is eccentric but I wish they had pushed her character a bit further. She is deliciously sinister when she is drawing the names for the games, resembling a manic jester relishing in misery. The Hunger Games does work in a slight love story, hinting at a blossoming love triangle between Katniss, the sensitive Peeta, and Gale (Played by Liam Hemsworth), a character who is more seen by the audience not really heard from. I wish the film would have developed his character a bit more, but I feel he will have a strong presence in the future. I just hope and pray the series doesn’t morph into a repetitive soap opera like Twilight did.
Of all the young adult books that have been developed into movies, I firmly believe that The Hunger Games is the best and most important of all of them. The Harry Potter series fell victim to too many artistic approaches and clunky tones, as there was not one consistent director at the helm. The end result is a series that is an absolutely mess with little to no flow between the movies. Twilight was more concerned with selling itself on sex appeal rather than developing a proper story that we can invest in, resulting in a petty franchise with little regard for the fan’s intelligence. I just wish they would wake up and see it. Now we have The Hunger Games, which I hope doesn’t fall victim to what destroyed the Harry Potter franchise. On this first run, it seems that it avoided what has plagued the Twilight saga. I sincerely hope they keep Ross behind the camera, the entire cast committed, and the ideas pulsing. We’re off to a good start with The Hunger Games, and may the odds continue to be in this franchise’s favor.
by Steve Habrat
Another year has come to a close and I know I will fondly remember 2011 as the year nostalgia ran rampant through cinema. We couldn’t get enough of the retro throwbacks that Hollywood dumped onto us! It touched horror (Insidious), superheroes (Captain America: The First Avenger), dramas (The Artist), thrillers (Drive), and even more than that. Many proclaimed that the year was lacking strong, well-made films that will live on but I have to disagree with those statements. I found 2011 to be a very good year for film with a number of wonderful films flickering across the silver screen. I will admit that, yes, the awards season was a bit dry with the usual awards tailored releases but one could make the argument that they were spread throughout the year. Hell, Spetember, which is usually the dumping ground for crappy movies, saw several great releases. So, my loyal readers, here is my picks for the 10 Best Films of 2011. I will follow the best with the honorable mentions and the 5 Worst Films of 2011.
10.) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
This Cold War thriller about a group of spies at the upper levels of British Intelligence trying to locate a Soviet mole that has apparently been walking among them for years is tense, paranoid, dry, and quietly threatening. With a discreet but brilliant performance from Gary Oldman and a slew of supporting acts not far behind (Toby Jones, Colin Firth, and Tom Hardy all give it 110%), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy becomes a film not about the mole but about the casualties of the Cold War. The casualties are the egos, careers, and lives of the men and women battling this war where accusations are fired instead of bullets. I remained on the fence about including this film in my Best of 2011 list but as the days pass, I find myself being squeezed tighter and tighter by its frosty grip.
9.) The Help
You know that chick flick that wasn’t Bridesmaids or Crazy Stupid Love (both awesome movies, by the way) that your girlfriend really wanted to see but you groused about going to? Yeah, The Help. It was really, really good and you missed out. The Help was a dazzling and patient film that was a cry for female camaraderie while never isolating the male viewer. It was a film about speaking your mind while opening up and listening to those around us. It was a film about unlikely friendships and cathartic confiding in one another. It was also a really great drama with moments of howling hilarity and stinging heartbreak. So yeah, that film you refused to see because it was just a “chick flick”? Yeah, you might want to see it because it happens to be a whole lot more than just for “chicks”. See it also for the show stopping performances from Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis.
Moneyball is to baseball what The Social Network was to Facebook. Featuring a crackling script by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin and top notch performances from Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane and Jonah Hill as the number crunching Peter Brand, Moneyball is consistently engrossing. If you can’t get enough of the babble about how to properly recruit a player, you’ll be thrilled to watch a film about a man on a search to make concise and solid decisions yet has failed to make the best ones in his own life. Pitt throws himself into Beane and for the first time in quite a while, disappears completely in the skin of his character. Hill breaks from his funnyman typecast and delivers a brainy performance that will open up more doors for him in the future. Even if you are the furthest thing from a baseball fan, you will find yourself hanging on every word and every frame of Moneyball.
7.) War Horse
Steven Spielberg’s majestic and epic interpretation of Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book is a touching and traditional opus. The film is pure Spielberg, a feel good blockbuster that leaps across Europe spying on the regal horse Joey and the several lives that he touches as he navigates through war torn landscapes. The film is complimented with an extraordinary score from John Williams that will become just as iconic as his scores for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Jaws. Whether you are jolted by the intense WWI battle sequences, marveling at the jaw-dropping cinematography, or still reeling from the barbed wire sequence, everyone can agree that War Horse is a cinematic triumph for, yes, all ages.
6.) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Director David Fincher’s frigid crime thriller that follows a disgraced liberal journalist and a punk rock hacker is a mature thrill ride that will leave you the viewer scarred. Refusing to pull any punches, Fincher’s take on Stieg Larsson’s source material is fully realized, confident, and just as unpredictable as its heroine Lisbeth Salander. Mara transforms herself into the troubled and prickly hacker while also making her extremely charismatic. Daniel Craig has fun as a man trying to repair what is left of both his dignity and his career. Just as graphic as you’ve heard (there is not one, but two squirm-inducing rape sequences), intense, and featuring the coolest opening credit sequence of any movie in 2011, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo leaves you pinned to your seat. You will also never listen to Enya’s “Sail Away” the same way ever again.
5.) The Artist
The nostalgia of 2011 hit its peak with the silent French film The Artist, a vivacious film about a silent film actor facing the death of the silent film. The Artist proved that we do not need loud action sequences, explosions, or words, for that matter, to be deeply affected by a motion picture. It also stands as a tribute to artists themselves, who stand by the medium that they contribute to. The Artist thrilled us with haunting images, on point slapstick, and gooey gobs of cuteness. Good luck getting the performances from Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo out of your head. You’ll also eat up all the affection that director Michel Hazanavicius bestows on every single frame. You’ll find yourself longing for a musical sequel and to relive the chemistry between the two leads. Trust me.
4.) The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick’s cosmic symphony of creation and evolution is so resplendently beautiful, it will practically drive you crazy. You’ll never forget the vivid swirls of the creation of the universe sequence or the crystal clear wonder in 1950’s suburbia. While the film is truly a work of art to gaze at, the film is made even stronger by the performances at the heart of it. Brad Pitt as a stern and cynical father who possesses an explosive temper will strike child-like fear into the viewer and Jessica Chastain as a naive and awe-struck housewife is graceful and inviting. The real beauty of The Tree of Life is in what you take away from the film. To me, Malick seems to simply be reminding us that life will throw some emotional curves at us, but don’t ever forget to stop and take in the glory around us.
3.) The Descendants
Paradise is not all its cracked up to be in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. George Clooney gives the best performance of his career as Matt King, a man whose wife is comatose from a boating accident and while she is in the hospital, he learns she was having an affair. Doleful and sporadically hilarious, The Descendants moved me beyond words and at times, is almost unwatchable due to the mental and emotional beatings that King takes. While Clooney steals the show, his troublemaker teenage daughter Alexandra, played by Shailene Woodley, is the life vest keeping King’s head above water. You’ll feel every blow that life dishes out to King but that is what makes The Descendants so emotionally raw, real, and just plain great.
Nicholas Winding Refn’s rough and tough thriller Drive has been wrongfully overlooked this awards season. It’s an unabashedly cool art house thrill ride that is one part homage to the 1980’s and one part existential tribute to Alejandro Jodorowsky. Featuring moments of angelic tranquility and fits of nerve frying rage and unflinching gore, Drive dared to be different and all the more power to it. Featuring the one-two punch of Ryan Gosling’s loner, nameless Driver and the erratic brutality of Albert Brooks’ gangster Bernie Rose, Drive isn’t simply all muscle with nothing under the hood. The film boasts the coolest soundtrack of the year, features moments that are instant classics (the head stomping scene, the opening car chase), and is the epitome of badass, all while taking you for a ride you’ll never soon forget.
There is a scene in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo where our child protagonists Hugo and Isabelle take a trip to the movies. Scorsese’s camera captures their wonderment, their gasping thrills, and their imaginations running wild all while they have smiles plastered across their faces. They are watching their dreams of adventure play out on a larger-than-life screen and they haven’t a care in the world. This is why I go to the movies. For two hours, I get to forget the outside world and I get to step into another, one where my dreams come alive and my imagination is at play. While Scorsese’s ultimate message is the call for film preservation, one I can stand behind, Hugo is alive with the love of cinema. If you are willing to immerse yourself in its glorious 3D universe that Scorsese meticulously creates, you will want to remain in the world along with Hugo and thrill as he darts around the 1930s train station that he calls home. A film that is tailored for film fans and film students a bit more than the casual moviegoer, Hugo is a love letter delicately written and magnificently composed by a living legend. Hugo is why I go to the movies.
– Crazy Stupid Love is a return to form for the romantic comedy genre.
– Midnight in Paris is a return to form for Woody Allen and is unapologetically charming.
– Thor, Captain American: The First Avenger, and X-Men: First Class were all stellar comic book offerings from Marvel Studios.
– Super 8 was a super cool retro action/science fiction film that fans of 1980s Spielberg gushed over. Myself included.
– The Adventures of Tintin was a rollicking nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark and stood as the best animated film of the year.
– Rango was quirky tribute to Chinatown, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Sergio Leone.
– Insidious was a flawed but fun haunted house freak out.
– Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was the best and most nerve-racking action film of the year.
– 50/50 was at once hilarious and heartfelt. Be prepared to wipe away a few tears.
2011 also had its fair share of cinematic duds and man, were they disappointing. For my Worst Films of 2011, I chose not to go for the easy choices (Bucky Larson, Jack & Jill) and go for the films that had potentially but fell short of their expectations. These were the ones that hurt bad and were an immense challenge to sit through. These are the films you should have stayed far away from in 2011.
5.) Cowboys & Aliens
Not a downright awful movie but given the talent surrounding this science fiction/western mash up, it should have been a hell of a lot better and much more fun. Flat and one note, this clunker threw one lifeless action sequence after another at us, never once getting an “Ooooooh” or an “Ahhhhh” from its viewer. The aliens were also pretty lame looking too. Daniel Craig tries his hardest but he can’t save this one. Heck, not even a naked Olivia Wilde had the magic!
4.) Green Lantern
The only superhero outing from DC Comics this summer turned out to be a candy colored nightmare of trippy special effects and a cluttered script. Ryan Reynolds as the cosmic cop was also a pretty horrible choice on the part of the filmmakers. It didn’t help that Warner Brothers tried to make this the successor to the mega successful Batman franchise and they ended up marketing the film to death. Weird and with more shifts in tone than you could shake a green ring at, Green Lantern was headache inducing and laughable, with enough plot holes to fuel a dozen terrible blockbusters. If you don’t believe me, just watch the massive climax of this thing. You won’t believe your eyes.
3.) Breaking Dawn Pt. 1
America, don’t you feel the slightest bit of shame that this passes for pop culture in our country? The Twilight Saga struck again in 2011 and left countless girls and grown women (You all should know better) swooning over Taylor Lautner and Robert Pattinson yet again. With nothing resembling a plot, Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 existed for simply one reason: To cheat young girls and grown women out of ten bucks. And sadly, they flocked right to Lautner’s abs like moths to a light bulb. If you are not a part of the hysterical hype, you will want to bash your head against the wall while you watch this.
2.) The Hangover Part II
Before all the girls were robbed blind while hyperventilating over the sight of Lautner’s abs, bros everywhere were robbed blind while howling over the painfully unfunny jokes by Zach Galifinakis and his brutish wolf-pack. An unnecessary sequel that did nothing to elaborate on the mostly unfunny first installment, The Hangover Part II was offensive in almost every possible way. If you missed this while it was in theaters, don’t fret and certainly don’t go seeking it out. It seemed like near the end of its theatrical run, the film lost steam as many people started realizing that this was a flat out horrendous movie. Maybe there is a God. Seriously, folks, this is an ugly, ugly movie that should have never seen the light of day.
1.) Battle: Los Angeles
Bad doesn’t even scratch the surface of the vociferous, stupid, and aggravating Battle: Los Angeles. You couldn’t tell if this abomination was supposed to be the most expensive commercial for the Marines ever made or the unholy brainchild of a kid who watched District 9 too many times and was obsessed with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Whether you’re cringing over the eye-rolling dialogue, trying to decipher just what the hell is going on in the non-stop gun fights, or trying not burst out laughing when the film goes for the dramatic territory, one thing is for sure, Battle: Los Angeles was the worst thing Hollywood dumped on audiences in 2011! Avoid it like a plague.
by Steve Habrat
I knew that the announcement to spilt Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two films would be a disastrous idea, mostly because every final film in a series is going to follow suit. Here we have the first copycat, Breaking Dawn Part I, and I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the most boring film exercises I have sat through. You’d think that Summit placing Dreamgirls director Bill Condon behind the camera would give birth to a hit (get it?) but instead he makes a film that is on the level of New Moon. Obviously just trying to milk more money from fans, Breaking Dawn Part I is the pettiest entry of the Twilight Saga, moving the story along an inch when it should have been a mile. It should be clear that I use the word “story” loosely. Mostly to blame is the returning writer Melissa Rosenberg, who is too focused on the honeymoon aspect of the film to even care about what else is going on. This entry will forever be the known as the film where Edward and Bella have sex, and the action stops right there. Nothing else happens in Breaking Dawn Part I and I mean absolutely nothing.
Breaking Dawn Part I picks up with Bella (Played once again by Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Played once again by Robert Pattinson) sending out invitations to their wedding, one going to the temper-tantrum prone Jacob (Played once again by Taylor Lautner, who only takes his shirt off once through the entire film). After klutzy Bella’s dream wedding, Edward whisks her off to a beachfront villa in Brazil, where they partake in the actions of a recently married couple. Trust me, it’s not all as exciting as it sounds, as they sit on the beach and play chess, stare at each other, swim around and embrace each other, etc. This goes on for about forty-five minutes and it’s just as boring as you’d expect. Hey, it gives the girls something to hang on. After the seemingly endless montage of exotic exploration, Bella suddenly gets ill one morning. She notices she is two weeks late and after a strange twitch in her stomach and barely noticeable baby bump (It looks like Stewart is trying to give herself a beer belly), Edward makes a mad dash for Forks and seeking the help of Carlisle (Played by Peter Facinelli), Bella slowly spirals into the pregnancy from hell. She is deathly pallid, bony, weak, and frail. The pregnancy resembles moments of Rosemary’s Baby (A nifty little nod, but Condon does little with it. He also put a cool nod to Bride of Frankenstein in there, which is perhaps the best moment of the entire movie), and lip-biting Bella makes calls to her still clueless father Sheriff Charlie (Played once again by Billy Burke) and lies about her condition. Soon, Jacob and his ravenous band of wolves begin hollering about treaties, Bella’s safety, and more, but as Bella gets worse, Edward may have no one else to turn to for help except Jacob.
Finally, a Twilight film draws a little blood and it is, well, disgusting and severely disappointing. The birth sequence, which is shown in blurry flashes and complimented with Bella’s groans and shrieks, is almost impenetrable. Condon and Stewart claimed that the scene was long and filled with very little dialogue. We must have seen a different movie. It’s the only point of the movie where anything substantial occurs and almost saves the entire thing from just being known as that honeymoon movie. Everyone still stands around and acts sullen, dejected, and explain why they can’t do this or that. Bella is still one-dimensional and boy crazy, even though she is married. Jacob has a creepy pedophile moment, a scene I’m surprised that no one pointed out to Condon himself and suggested a restructuring of the entire scene. I couldn’t help but feel like Breaking Dawn Part I is just killing time and for all the wrong reasons.
What is also troubling about Breaking Dawn Part I is its sinister view of childbirth, presented here as a curse rather than blessing. Edward tries to see the optimistic side of things but a majority is grim, serious, and acting as some weird public service announcement to tweens. It should be noted I’m still not entirely sure the point of this PSA except that pregnancy is bad. Bella is shown shuffling through the Cullen home, taking swigs of a blood concoction that gives her strength, and being doted over by the annoying Jacob. You know, if they converted this to black and white, maybe it could have acted like social guidance films from years past in the same style as 1936’s Reefer Madness and 1961’s Boys Beware. Don’t have sex or you will be pregnant with a monster!!! But who is the cautionary tale for anyway? Is it for girls who happen to meet men that stepped out of a Universal Studios horror movie?
While the honeymoon scenes are painfully monotonous in their subject matter, Condon does photograph things with a whole lot of panache. He has sweeping shots of Rio de Janeiro, as Bella and Edward embrace in the midst of a street fair. He tries to give it some individuality even if the script hinders anything resembling individuality. The exotic shots are luminous and when they return to Forks, the film looses its visual punch. It slips back in to Days of our Vampires when the camera dollies around the Cullen residence. The shots of the lustrous wedding will also send anyone with an interest in cinematography into a tizzy. The wedding conjured up memories of the much better Eclipse and for a moment I thought that Slade may have bumped Condon out of the picture.
Breaking Dawn Part I is a real kick to the groin, partly because Eclipse showed some promise and hinted at an ample story emerging from all the vacant melodrama. This film backtracks and reverts right back to the same old conservative frame of mind. This makes me dread the coming of Part II, which we can only hope holds our attention longer than this crap does. For a film about nothing and as insulting as it is, I was shocked to see women on the edge of their seats about to face plant into the seat in front of them. Filled with B-movie performances, stilted dialogue, and a handful of flaccid action scenes, Breaking Dawn Part I sends a bizarre message to its female viewers, all who seem to be oblivious to what its saying to you. And trust me, it is not sending an abundance of compliments your way.
by Steve Habrat
I’m going to cut right to it: Eclipse is the first Twilight film worthy of all the tear-stained hysterics bestowed up on it. Seriously, someone buy director David Slade a drink and give him a pat on the back. This man single handedly saved this entire franchise by giving the lunkheaded narrative some bearing and making things a bit more exciting. You go, Mr. Slade! Now, for all the praise I just showed Eclipse, I do have my gripes with Bella Swan’s third outing with Edward Cullen and Jacob Black. While Slade adds some teeth gnashing action scenes, writer Melissa Rosenberg still can’t resist the temptation to bog parts of the film down with countless scenes of the characters laying in fields and staring at each other and arguing about the future of relationships. Jacob still spends half the movie running around with out a shirt and Edward’s hair is still a mess. But at least Jacob takes out a few vamps this time, so I’ll forgive some of the constant removal of his shirt. It is truly amazing how this love triangle takes shape when there is actually a bit of a threat on the horizon and the film embraces a little danger. It also doesn’t shy away from a plot, much like the first two entries did.
Eclipse picks up with Bella (Played by Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Played by Robert Pattinson) discussing the future of their relationship. They throw around marriage and Bella’s wish to be turned into a vampire. Jacob Black (Played by Traylor Lautner) still stomps around and desperately tries to win Bella’s affection. While all the same old hooey drags on in Forks, a handful of mysterious murders send Seattle into a frenzy. Turns out that there is a growing army of vampires called “Newborns”, all who are standing by red headed siren Victoria (Played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and are slowly making their way to Forks to take Bella’s life. Bella’s father Sheriff Charlie (Played by Billy Burke) tries desperately to piece together what is going on, but Edward and his family are one step ahead of the dense Sheriff. They begin to devise a counterattack on the “Newborns” and they seek the help of Jacob and his wolf pack. With the uneasy alliance in line, they begin the fight to protect Bella.
Eclipse still ignores the same glaring issues that plague the series. How does Charlie Swan still not suspect anything strange about the pasty white Edward? How much longer is this pointless love triangle going to bring down the party? Why is Bella so damn boy crazy? How do Bella’s normal friends not suspect anything weird? By this point, I’ve given up hope they will address any of these questions. Instead, Eclipse gets its own set of problems, mostly stemming from the poor storytelling of Rosenberg and Stephanie Meyer, who have no idea how to build tension and keep that building tension in place. The film blows over like a house of cards when Edward and Bella stare at each other and profess their feelings. Yet Slade tries desperately and he pays us off with a spine-tingling showdown at the end of the film. The special effects rank as some of the best in the series so far and the make-up on the vampires isn’t as powdery and artificial as the first two films. There is also a fairly hair-raising introduction to the film featuring a nasty vampire attack…which includes a bite on the hand. Yeah, I know, it’s meek and well aware that a good majority of viewers fall into the female gender, so an artery-spurting assault is out of the question. But here, Slade knows vampires, as he directed the comic book chiller 30 Days of Night, so he has some experience with vamp action.
Now we turn to the good and I’ll be honest, I never thought I’d find much good in these films. Eclipse puts its characters in harm’s way and allows a few of them to get hurt. It never gets as ballsy as New Moon did and kill someone off (Please do not interpret that as praise for that rubbish film), but some characters do get a bit of a beat down. This one is a notch more violent than the previous installments and it doesn’t always turn away like the previous two always did. Bryce Dallas Howard is a welcome addition as Victoria, throwing an actress in the mix that is capable of adding some layers to her character even if that character finds herself in a Twilight movie. Dakota Fanning’s Volturi hellraiser Jane shows up to do a little more than just show off red contact lenses and utter empty threats. She gets a few nasty torture sequences that are giddy fun. Jacob’s digital alter ego gets to bare his fangs and rip a few vampires to shreds, tearing ones head off. Once again, these vampires don’t bleed out or burst into flames, but rather crumble into marble.
Once criticism I have for Slade is his disinterest in pushing his young actors to grow in their characters. The most disappointing is Bella, who finds herself at the center of the conflict. She does absolutely nothing to help anyone out and stands around and sulks. Sure, she TALKS about helping but never really does or Edward talks her out of it. Pattinson still looks like he is trying to pass a kidney stone and Lautner is still unpersuasive as a supposed macho man. The only evolution that is made is that Bella turns out to be a bit of a closet hornball. Don’t think too much about it or attempt to analyze, it fades just a quickly as it shows up.
Perhaps the most liberal of the Twilight films, I have to say that Eclipse is a fairly decent film that if it was trimmed down and ignored some of the chattier moments, it would actually be respectable. Slade tries desperately to sidestep the repetitive nature of these films and he comes out of it with a good portion of his dignity in tact. There is a scene in a brightly lit field near the beginning of the film that is absolutely jaw dropping even if there is the constant annoying hum of tween romance babble. In fact, I would have loved to see what Slade did with the previous two entries and what kind of personality he would have installed into them. It really does boggle my mind as to why the producers of this film have allowed Rosenberg to continue to pen these films, as she the bane of the Twilight films existence. She needs to cut the intimate moments down significantly and understand that we are well aware that these characters are at odds with their emotions. She doesn’t continuously need to underline the point and put it in italics. Someone also needs to step in and instruct the actors on how to be less wooden and show a bit more life. So, Twilight fans, for the first time, you are worthy of your prestigious MTV Best Movie award.
Eclipse is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
While watching and battling to stay awake through the trudging second chapter in the Twilight saga, I came to the realization that New Moon is responsible for all the laughable clichés that have burdened this franchise. Every other scene in this turkey of a film is filled with a shirtless male pouting and explaining to Bella that they can’t be together. I guess they had to have some sort of selling point for New Moon because it certainly wasn’t going to get far on its storyline, performances, or writing, all which fall substantially from the first film. If you’re looking for the culprit, look no further than this film right here. There is no action aside from a fairly entertaining chase sequence in the middle of the film, cheap special effects, and a plotline that can’t quite decide what it wants to be about. To think that there is an army of rabid fans out there for this film truly amazes me after sitting through it. My advice: Stay home and read the book again. What you can imagine in your mind while reading is infinitely more fun than what director Chris Weitz cooked up and severed.
New Moon picks up with lovebirds Bella (Played once again by the stiff Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Played once again by Robert Patinson) openly dating and fairly happy. The film picks up with Edward and his family throwing Bella an 18th birthday party. She is less than enthused, as she suffered a horrible nightmare about growing old a night earlier. At the downer of a party, Bella suffers a paper cut while opening one of her gifts, causing Edward’s brother Jasper (Played by Jackson Rathbone) to attempt to kill her. In response to this event, Edward decides that Bella is not fit for Edward’s world and he leaves Forks with the rest of his vampire clan. Bella slips in to a deep depression and after an empty threat to send her to live with her mother by her Sheriff father Charlie (Played by Billy Burke), Bella agrees to bounce back from the break-up. Bella soon discovers that if she thrill seeks, she will see the apparition of Edward warning her to be careful. She also strikes up a friendship with the perpetually shirtless Jacob Black (Played by Taylor Lautner) which blossoms into hinted romance. Jacob soon starts acting funny and Bella eventually figures out he is a werewolf who is aiming to protect her from a revenge-seeking vampire that aims to kill her.
New Moon has absolutely no focal point whatsoever. It can’t quite decide what it wants its plotline to be causing the film to bounce around with no discipline to speak of. This falls on the shoulders of screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, who botches yet another adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s already rocky novel. One second the film is about the blossoming relationship between Bella and Edward. The next second it’s about Bella and Jacob developing a relationship just so Jacob can pull the same bullshit that Edward did. Then Edward is brooding about something and then so is Jacob. Director Weitz puts no cap on the film at all, never once cutting something out and making a more straightforward film. It actually begins to be unclear on who is upset with whom and who has feelings and treaties with whom. It’s daft! It’s drama for the sake of drama and the furthest thing from art. This lack of narrative structure and flow, for that matter, causes New Moon to collapse on itself.
Further driving New Moon into the ground is the performances from the actors themselves, which actually end up being worse than the first time. Bella is even more pathetic and boy crazy. She’s superficial, feeble, and the furthest thing from a feminist hero. She falls to pieces over every guy she meets and constantly longs for a male crutch. The best bit from Stewart’s performance comes when Bella takes a tumble off of a crotch rocket that she builds with Jacob. She rolls into a giant rock, smashes her noggin, and nearly knocks herself out cold. Jacob rushes over, takes his shirt off (naturally), and wipes the gushing blood from her head. “Are you trying to kill yourself!?”, he asks. She just stares at him and says, “Sorry”. Oh, come on!! She just suffered a serious injury to her head! When Jacob points this out she says, “Oh”. Reconsider you day job, Miss. Rosenberg. Edward is largely absent from the entire project, only showing up in asinine hallucinations. Pattinson must have been instructed to leave his sense of humor in his trailer, as he just stands around and looks like he is in desperate need of a toilet. Lautner is supposed to be playing a real rough and tough killer but the only way Weitz and Rosenberg know how to convey that is by having him consistently taking off his shirt. Billy Burke’s Charlie Swan is a clueless moron, someone who is frustratingly ignorant to everything going on around him. How he hasn’t figured out that werewolves and vampires are running rampant in his town, I will never know. You’re best friends with a pack of them, you imbecile! Michael Sheen pops up at the end of the film as Aro, the leader of the vampire council called the Volturi. He appears amused by all of the nonsense around him and plays Aro with a flamboyant bounce to his step. Everyone else in the film is forgettable, yes, even Dakota Fanning, who is hidden behind red contact lenses.
Where Twilight had some fairly ordinary camerawork, at least it had the good sense to be somewhat eye grabbing. Director Weitz can’t even make the picture he has framed a joy to look at. He stages a nifty chase sequence through the woods set to Thom Yorke’s stuttering single Hearing Damage. This killer sequence boasts the best CGI of the movie, puts some of its characters in harm’s way, and it even kills off a character. How bold of you, New Moon! The rest of the action is a retread of the battle at the end of Twilight only set in Italy. The effects on the werewolves look like they belong in a made-for-T.V. movie on the SyFy channel. The film never visually pops off the screen and instead retreats in to an amber glow that engulfs everything Weitz points his camera at. Maybe he is trying to imply that this entry is much more “rustic”. Your guess is as good as mine.
The crime you will be quick to accuse New Moon of is monotony, but it is also guilty of inanity. It never once asks the viewer to think about anything, never hinting at deeper meanings or motives. The film throws around implied romance every chance it gets but it never gives us anything. There are, once again, a few pecks here and there, but nothing definitive ever comes to a head. This is just filler in between entries, simply introducing us to a new character for women to swoon over. It feels like there is a real story that is ready to be cracked, but it’s not in this film. This is just leftovers from the first entry and ones that have gone moldy. New Moon is also entirely too long and could have helped itself by scaling back. They just cram more and more crap into it, and by crap, I mean Bella, Jacob, and Edward just staring at each other. I guess all I can say is kudos to the author, screenwriter, and director who have made millions of dollars from blind teenagers. Open your eyes and see that New Moon is nothing more than a diversion from the fact that this film is about nothing. Except, well, Lautner’s abs.
New Moon is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Imagine if Stanley Kubrick and Christopher Nolan got together and decided they were going to make a futuristic version of Robin Hood set against a Clockwork Orange-esque wasteland. The new techno thriller In Time, directed by Andrew Niccol, has a lot on its mind and plenty to say. Unfortunately, it’s reduced to rambling, off on a tangent and showing no signs of stopping. To be fair, In Time has an interesting premise; a few original bursts here and there that save it from being disposable filler at the local theater. The film exhaustively tells us that time is precious, blah, blah, blah. Well my time is precious too and this film was given way too much time to peer down at me from it’s soap box and preach. That is what In Time was built for—to preach. Lucky enough, the film had the good fortune to be made and released during the Occupy Wall Street protests, which is another element that works in it’s favor. For as ambitious as this film is, it never obtains the epic, morose scope that Nolan produces or the multilayered psychology Kubrick gave us.
In Time shows us a world where humans stop aging at twenty-five. Once they hit the said age, a digital clock on their forearm begins ticking and humans have to earn more time to survive. Rather than money, your job pays you in seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, etc. Time is also used as the currency, where the more time you have, the longer you live. The world is also divided up into time zones, where a sinister police force called the “Timkeepers” can monitor how much time is in the specific zone. These time zones also separate the wealthy from the poor. Will Salas (Played by Justin Timberlake) comes from the slum Dayton, where one evening while visiting a seedy bar, stumbles across a wealthy man Henry Hamilton (Played by Matt Bomer) with a hundred years on his clock buying drinks for the crowd. A group of local gangsters called “Minutemen” set their eyes on him and threaten his life. Will narrowly saves Henry and hides him in a local warehouse where Henry explains to Will that he is one hundred and five years old and no longer feels the desire to live. While Will sleeps, Henry transfers all of his time to Will, making Will wealthy over night. Henry commits suicide and Will is captured on surveillance for suspicious behavior in the wake of the suicide. That evening, Will’s mother Rachel (Played by Olivia Wilde) does not have enough time on her for a bus ride and is forced to walk home. While desperately trying to reach Will for more time, her clock runs out and she dies in front of Will. Will sets out to drain the wealthy of as much time as he can, along the way meeting wealthy timelender Phillipe Weis and his beautiful daughter Sylvia (Played by Amanda Seyfried). Will is also being pursued by a relentless timekeeper named Raymond Leon (Played by Cillian Murphy).
Not an easy film to sum up, In Time does have a webbed storyline, but that’s not its problem. The film is often condescending, always assuming the viewer lacks the intelligence to follow what is going on. It’s under the impression that we can’t put together its unconcealed political message. It then drives its point home with such force, you almost want to shout “ENOUGH!” The film empties its narrative quickly, leaving the well dry for the last forty minutes of the movie. It’s just run, check in to hotel, steal more time, chase, repeat. There are characters that are not fleshed out enough, cramming them in at the beginning and then tossing them out the second Will meets Phillipe and Sylvia. I’m all for an intelligent thriller/blockbuster, but In Time thinks it’s a bit too smart. It also seems to demand that we take it seriously, but it’s difficult when the film is burdened with hammy acting.
After the film ended, one of my friends that accompanied me to our showing said he doesn’t think Justin Timberlake is capable of carrying an entire movie. He’s not a seasoned pro yet. I couldn’t agree more with this statement. He’s still an amateur in the acting game and trying to carry a film like this couldn’t have been the easiest task for him. When his mother bites the dust, Timberlake drops to his knees, wailing, and looks slightly like he is smack in the middle of a violent bowel movement. I didn’t buy his anguish and it’s unintentionally funny. This is not to say he doesn’t wield any talent, but he needs to stick to supporting roles until he really sharpens his acting a bit. He sometimes slips into overdramatics, attempting to embody the ominous hero but coming up short. He has yet to shake his pretty boy image.
The rest of the cast of In Time does an ample job with what they have to work with. Wilde does a reputable job for the little she is given as Will’s mother. I sometimes think she is capable of more than she produces, sometimes being reduced to just a pretty face and nothing more. You can’t help but bat an eye at some of the films she chooses to star in. Seyfried does fine work, working with something far more substantial than Twilight wannabe turds like Red Riding Hood. The vet here in all the sci-fi techno babble is Cillian Murphy as Raymond Leon. Murphy is a truly gifted actor that is always just below the radar. I wish he would get another major leading man role, as he always knocks it out of the park when he is in front of the camera (Seriously, just look at 28 Days Later, Red Eye, Batman Begins, and Inception!). Murphy does a good majority of the heavy lifting, even if he does look like he raided the wardrobe of The Matrix.
At the end of the day, In Time is an average thought provoking attack on capitalism and class rank. It also slips in some existential hooey but it’s fairly elementary and you will be just waving it off. Reluctant to embrace what it truly is, which is simply a futuristic Robin Hood thriller with some minor ideas and dressed in all black, it’s a decent little ride. You won’t be taking any of it home with you, replaying any major action sequences in your head, or raving about any performance outside of Murphy’s. You will be left wondering how Timberlake’s Salas magically morphs from desperate kid in the ghetto to ass-kicking superhero. Don’t concern yourself with it too much, you’ll never be told. In Time is uneven and bumpy, making me wish that I didn’t invest forty minutes of my time in the final act. If you’re in the market for a film in which all the actors and actresses look pretty, look no further than In Time.
by Steve Habrat
I’m sick of vampires. They are everywhere we turn anymore. They glare from their airbrushed movie posters and the covers of the latest tween romance novel. They have their hair perfectly sculpted on top of their pale domes and they brood while offering just the right amount of sexuality to make the girls wild. To make them more interesting, we’ve had to include werewolves just so they have a story to work with. Damn you, Twilight. To make matters worse, they are about as scary as a male model donning some wax Halloween fangs and whispering boo with all the lights on while standing in the middle of a room. Bela Lugosi is rolling in his grave. Not to fear, boys and ghouls, as I have the remedy for those who want a scary vampire movie. Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre is an eerie, earthy, and otherworldly tale that is part remake, part re-envisioning of the Dracula legend. On the surface, this film is supposedly a nod to F.W. Murnau’s legendary 1920’s silent film creep out, but Herzog makes a film that raises the hairs on the back of your neck and overwhelms you with gliding, wide-eyed beauty. Take the rolling shots of shrieking corpses at the beginning of this film. It’s entrancing and grotesque. A true splendor of life and death. I’m also convinced that they are real corpses. Then a swooping shot of a bat, presented in slow motion, so that we may drink in the grace of this barreling predator of the sky. This film is a true work of art in the first five minutes of it’s run time.
To explain the plot would be a waste of time. Most are familiar with the story of Dracula. The eccentric Klaus Kinski plays the bloodsucking demon, a bald, mouth-breathing terror that is spiderlike and pitiful. He’s a lonely soul that relishes hearing the faint howls of “the children of the night”. He creeps about his ruined castle, which may or may not be real, and terrorizes the rational Jonathan (Played by Bruno Ganz). The whole stay at the castle feels like a cloudy nightmare, an aesthetic approach that is used in Herzog’s foggy camerawork and Twilight Zone music. The entire film seems to suggest legend, a myth that comes from nature and is passed from the lips of superstitious peasants. When the film ventures to Varna, it sheds it’s trance like feel and becomes an epidemic terror.
Nosferatu the Vampyre refuses to become supernatural, grounding Dracula in the real world. What if this ghoul existed and he came from the seclusion of the mountains? He is an anti-social fiend that is not suave, sexy, or confidant. He runs about Varna, hiding his coffins in abandoned buildings and hissing at crucifixes. He lurks in the industrial ruins and peers out of windows down on his prey. His cape and coat dancing in the wind. His long claws wrapping around each other like constricting snakes. He speaks slowly and cautiously, choosing his words as carefully as he chooses where to hide his coffins. His eyes dart about his skull, always aware of his surroundings and what his next move will be. Piecing his plans together to spread his plague and bring about the apocalypse.
Herzog makes a melodramatic soap opera; complete with overacting that shows traces of Shakespeare, a trait that was rampant in Universal’s 1931 classic Dracula. Dracula longs for Lucy, who is becoming aware of what the plague truly is. Dracula visits her one evening in her room, a scene that lingers in my head and is one of my favorite sequences in a film in all the history of cinema. He is chivalrous, menacing, and volatile. We see him in the corner of the room, the very edge of the frame, but not visible in Lucy’s mirror. She stares in disbelief, as she resists his advances and subtly vowing that she will destroy him, even if it means death. The shot says so much while lacking copious amounts of dialogue. Jonathan desperately tries to reach Lucy, a man who has fallen ill under the vampiric germ. By the end, he is an evil descendant who is ready to finish what the master has started. Nosferatu the Vampyre is a tragedy, one that ends in the death of Dracula, who dies at the hand of love and infatuation. Lucy sacrifices herself for love and it strangely feels like suicide as well. Who wants to live and love in a world that has gone to Hell? Lucy takes a final walk through the plague riddled street as people dance the dance of death, have their final meals, and celebrate their final moments of joyous life, all while rats scurry about the streets.
A favorite horror film of mine, one that scared me to death the first time I saw it and left me flabbergasted in the wake of it’s beauty, Nosferatu the Vampyre is a blood curdling opera that is the work of an auteur who respects and deeply loves the legend. It offers a fresh take and is worth seeing for it’s artful approach alone. It could and should play in museums while visitors gape at its splendor. It’s slow moving and may repel a few who like their horror fast and bloody. There is very little blood throughout it’s run time. It was released in 1979, though it has aged remarkably well through the years. I’d give anything for this to be released on Blu-ray. I know I’d rush out the day it’s released just to see it in crystal clear high definition. This film is scary, folks. It will creep you out, question what is real and imaginary, and will make you uncomfortable to be by yourself for a while after watching it. Your skin will crawl when you first lay eyes on Kinski’s Dracula and, for my money, he is the best Dracula ever. Lugosi takes a back seat at number two. A must-see for anyone who loves cinema, Nosferatu the Vampyre will make you afraid of vampires again. Just like you should be. Grade: A+
by Corinne Rizzo
Backward down the number line of chronology, Dracula, released on Valentine’s Day in 1931, is not the first in the series of Universal Monster Movies, but it certainly is one of the most refined.
Beginning not unlike the last two films reviewed this week, Dracula begins with a grand arrival, much like the arrival of the gypsies in The Wolf Man and The Invisible Man’s entrance into the pub, Renfield arrives via horse and carriage to a small valley town just below the mountain top where Dracula resides. The townspeople are hurried in their actions and are surprised to see someone new arriving so late in the evening. In an attempt to warn him at once, the villagers encourage Renfield to stay for a night and begin his travels again in the morning. When the tale of Dracula is told, Renfield laughs it off and reminds the village that he is not scared and must continue. Little did Renfield know that his arrival would give way to his enslavement.
When the audience meets Count Dracula, a slow and cautious character is introduced. His actions are calculated and lack confidence, though he knows what he is capable of. The Count’s character traits almost mimic the action within the film and just as his movements are akward and slow, the film continues in a calculated though anticlimactic way. For instance, each one of Count Dracula’s victims is visited by him in the form of a bat before they are taken down. Then, they almost casually fall unconscious, while Dracula slowly goes for the jugular. The audience can always tell when a victim is about to fall, though the viewer never sees the blood, leaving a much desired horror effect.
It is easy to write off nuances like this and chalk it up to the film being dated and that the viewer may just be used to a certain standard by now, but honestly, the story told by the villagers in the beginning seemed more menacing than the villain in this film. Think about it. Assuming you’ve seen Dracula and are reading this review to support the site or for whatever reason, every night The Count comes creeping out of his casket where he keeps native soil to rest in and he brings his three lovely assistants, whom he only calls upon to show off in front of, and there is smoke floating all around the caskets, a slow creep out with those gangly awkward fingers and then…there is no smooth and casual way of showing it, but all of the sudden Dracula is standing up! It’s enough to turn the audience giggling every time the scene is repeated. The camera shot is panned away from the casket for just a moment and suddenly, without a trace of dirt or a hair out of place, Dracula is on his feet and ready to roll.
Things like this within the film are rampant. The only way to tell if someone has been affected is that their eyes get really big, the bat that Dracula turns into to spy on his victims is super hokey and Dracula almost has too many weaknesses against him to be menacing. The guy can’t tolerate light, is spooked by mirrors, wolf vein, and crucifixes. There are so many ways to keep Count Dracula out of one’s life and the film really felt like it was stretching to find ways around those ideas.
This is not to say that it wasn’t a valiant effort on Universal’s part to depict such a character, the film was enjoyable enough to watch, though fell short of certain expectations one could develop after being exposed to The Wolf Man and The Invisible Man. There are many parallels within Dracula to keep an avid Monster Movie buff interested in the entire series, the incorporation of things like wolf vein and evil being equated with wolves, the repetition of scenes and the noticeable calculation of scenes, even the token female character—all across each film so far could keep a campy crowed happy through marathon, though taken alone, Dracula falls short in this best of three.
Top Five Reasons You Should Watch Dracula
1) Bela Lugosi is Dracula! The same gypsy werewolf in The Wolf Man!
2) There are way more dames in this film than the others so far.
3) Bats, usually a frightening creature, are the size of small pigs and hilariously nonthreatening.
4) An actual quote about these pig bats is “Watch out, it will get in your hair.” Leading the viewer to believe that whoever wrote the script believes that the everyday woman of the twenties and thirties has bat/hair issues.
5) It makes Twilight less sexy (not in that “Oh, I want to do you way, but in that overexposed American way) and more pervy (and even more awkward).
Today, Anti-Film School is announcing our upcoming October project. Starting October 1st, Anti-Film School will be taken over by horror movies and it will last all month! Expect new reviews and articles on horror films every day throughout October. Yup, all thirty-one days. You can expect reviews for the Universal Movie Monsters, George A. Romero’s Dead saga, a look back at John Carpenter’s The Thing in honor of the prequel, Vampire films (NOT Twilight), an article on Rob Zombie, and more! Here’s the really nifty part: You get to choose our final Halloween review! We want you to vote in our latest poll that asks you which horror movie classic you want to see reviewed on the 31st. We will launch the poll today and it will stay open until October 21st. If there is a movie that we do not include in the poll, a horror movie that you would like to see, leave a comment on the poll post or email Steve, Charles, or Corinne. We want the readers to get involved with the site so don’t be bashful! You will still be able to find reviews for new movies throughout the month, so rest assured those who dislike horror, we have you covered. We are really excited to do this project and we hope you guys enjoy it. Now start voting in the poll and tell your friends! Everyone has a favorite horror flick!